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Robert Bullock, 75; Priest, Critic of Church's Role in Sex Scandal

June 23, 2004|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Father Robert Bullock, the Roman Catholic priest who became an outspoken critic of the church's handling of the sexual abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese, has died. He was 75.

Bullock died Saturday night at home in the rectory of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon, Mass., where he was pastor, said Michael Iwanowicz a parish deacon. Bullock was diagnosed with liver cancer this spring.

As a founder of the Priests' Forum, a support and networking group for Boston-area clergymen that was formed before the sex scandal broke, Bullock became a national spokesman for priests when the allegations of misconduct in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston became public.

He was cast into the spotlight in December 2002 after he and 57 other priests (not all of them members of the Priests' Forum) signed a letter calling for the resignation of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law.

Their dramatic action came after more than 100 people in the Boston area sued priests, charging them with sexual molestation. It became increasingly apparent that Law and several bishops had protected violator priests by moving them from parish to parish, covering up their sexual misconduct and arranging secret financial settlements for victims.

The scandal was "the biggest crisis the Catholic Church in America has ever known," Bullock told the Irish Times after the priests' letter to Law had been made public.

In calling for Law's resignation, the letter read, in part, "your position as our bishop is so compromised that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston.... The people of this archdiocese are angry, hurt and in need of authentic spiritual leadership. We believe that despite your good work in the past, you are no longer able to provide that leadership."

Bullock's critics saw the letter as a betrayal and noted that as director of campus ministry he had supervised Father Paul Shanley, who is now awaiting trial for his alleged sex crimes. Shanley once worked as a campus chaplain but was living in San Diego in 2002 when he was arrested on three counts of raping a boy in Massachusetts years earlier. He was transferred to Southern California in 1989, initially for health reasons, with Law's approval.

Bullock said that he did not know about Shanley's alleged sexual misconduct, but that he and other priests should have done more to prevent the violations by offending priests.

"The abused children were our parishioners. The abusers were our brother priests. We may have heard rumors, we may have had suspicions, but only a few of us did anything, " the Boston Globe quoted him as saying in its obituary Monday.

Cool under fire, articulate and measured in his arguments, he was an obvious choice to be the spokesman for priests.

"Bob Bullock loved the Catholic Church. He was not one who enjoyed shaking his fist at the church," Robert O'Shea, a high school classmate and longtime friend, told The Times on Monday.

When Law resigned, Bullock was anything but happy. "This is a tragedy, what happened to this man," he told the Boston Globe.

"I don't know any bishop who is harder working, more skilled, more charismatic than Cardinal Law," he told the Irish Times. "He's got to be treated with enormous compassion."

Born in Fall River, Mass., Bullock was one of two sons, both of whom became priests. A graduate of Boston College, Bullock worked in several Boston area parishes after his ordination in 1956 before becoming the first director of Catholic campus ministry for the archdiocese in the late 1960s. He worked as the Catholic chaplain at Brandeis University, a nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored institution in Waltham, Mass., from 1969 to 1978. As a campus chaplain during the Vietnam War, he helped students who were applying for conscientious objector status.

At Brandeis, Bullock began to read extensively about the Holocaust, and he continued his studies for the rest of his life. His growing expertise on the subject and his years as a chaplain on Brandeis' inter-religious campus led him to his assignment as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon, a town south of Boston with a primarily Jewish population, in 1978.

He is survived by his older brother, Father Myron Bullock, who gave him the sacrament for the dying Saturday.

The funeral will be Thursday at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Sorrows.

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